How the Iowans explained their votes on debt ceiling deal

Iowa’s four U.S. House members avoided public comment for days after President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy agreed on a deal to suspend the debt ceiling until January 2025, in exchange for some federal budget cuts and other policy changes.

But they all fell in line on May 31. Representatives Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-01), Ashley Hinson (IA-02), Zach Nunn (IA-03), and Randy Feenstra (IA-04) voted with GOP leadership and the majority of their caucus for the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023.

Key points of the legislation:

  • The debt ceiling will be suspended until January 2025, avoiding another risky standoff in an election year. A proposal House Republicans approved in April would have raised the debt ceiling through March 2024, or until the federal government incurred another $1.5 trillion in debt (whichever came first).
  • Spending on most domestic programs will “fall by $1 billion from this year to next and rise by 1 percent in 2025.” The House GOP proposal would have cut most federal agency budgets to fiscal year 2022 levels—a significant decline.
  • The deal rescinds $1.4 billion of the $80 billion allocated to the Internal Revenue Service in last year’s Inflation Reduction Act, and reduce another $20 billion of those funds. The original House bill called for rescinding the whole $80 billion for the IRS.
  • Federal government spending on the military and veterans benefits will increase; the White House had offered to freeze those parts of the budget, but House Republicans said no.
  • There will be more work requirements for recipients of food assistance (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP) and another welfare program (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or TANF). However, some groups will be exempt from the work requirements.
  • In a gift to Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, the bill guarantees permits for a natural gas pipeline running from West Virginia to Virginia.
  • Americans whose student loan repayments were paused during the pandemic will need to start making regular payments again.

There was some suspense before a key procedural vote on the deal. House Democratic leaders had indicated they wanted to see at least 150 Republican votes for the package before helping to pull the bill over the line. The vote on the rule was 241 to 187, with 189 Republicans (including all Iowans) and 52 Democrats in favor, and 29 Republicans and 158 Democrats voting no.

Alliances shifted for the vote on final passage, which split 314 to 117. More Democrats (165) than Republicans (149) voted yes, while 71 Republicans and 46 Democrats opposed the deal.

I’ve been checking the social media feeds of Iowa’s House members ever since Biden and McCarthy agreed on terms over the holiday weekend. Unlike many of their colleagues, Miller-Meeks, Hinson, Nunn, and Feenstra did not share their views about the bill. However, three of them released statements after the May 31 votes.

From Miller-Meeks:

The Fiscal Responsibility Act is the largest deficit reduction bill in history, cutting over $2 trillion in wasteful spending while fully funding critical programs for veterans, seniors, and America’s national security. Iowa’s and America’s energy producers and infrastructure projects will benefit from a streamlined permitting process. This bill also defunds the IRS and keeps it from being weaponized against hardworking taxpayers. This bill’s common sense spending reforms and policies are the first steps in putting our country on a path to fiscal responsibility.

Hinson’s statement described the bill as “legislation that cuts spending and avoids a catastrophic default.”

President Biden and liberal Democrats in Washington are addicted to spending taxpayer dollars – they rammed through trillions in wasteful spending during their one-party rule, and would have kept going if our House Republican majority didn’t stop them. The Fiscal Responsibility Act cuts spending and includes significant reforms to our spending process, avoids a default that would have catastrophic consequences on everyday Iowans, and is a sensible solution in a divided government. The next step is ensuring we have conservative leadership in the White House and Senate that will follow the Iowa model of safeguarding taxpayer dollars and budgeting responsibly.

Nunn posted on Twitter, “Our government needs to get out-of-control spending under control. I voted tonight to pass bipartisan legislation to reduce the national debt and prevent default while protecting Social Security, Medicare, and Veterans’ benefits.” His full statement read,

This bill is a strong step toward fiscal responsibility. It cuts $1.5 trillion off the debt—the largest deficit reduction bill in history—and as promised, fully protects Medicare, Social Security, and veterans’ benefits. Importantly, by preventing default, this bill will provide critical certainty to Iowans who rely on the government to pay its bill on time and prevent a catastrophic interest rate increase that would have made it nearly impossible for first time home buyers and Iowa’s aspiring small business owners. Now, the fight continues to balance the budget and make Washington, D.C. operate more like Iowa.

I will update this post if I see any official comment from Feenstra. On May 27, before the deal was announced, he tweeted,

President Biden will be entirely responsible for a default.

@SpeakerMcCarthy and @HouseGOP passed our #LimitSaveGrowAct to slash $4.8 trillion in wasteful spending and reduce our nearly $32-trillion debt.

We did our job. It’s time for Biden to do his.

Some commentators (and disgruntled House conservatives) have argued that Biden came out with a better deal than McCarthy. The president didn’t spike the ball in a written statement the White House released after the House vote.

Tonight, the House took a critical step forward to prevent a first-ever default and protect our country’s hard-earned and historic economic recovery. This budget agreement is a bipartisan compromise. Neither side got everything it wanted. That’s the responsibility of governing. I want to thank Speaker McCarthy and his team for negotiating in good faith, as well as Leader [Hakeem] Jeffries for his leadership.
This agreement is good news for the American people and the American economy. It protects key priorities and accomplishments from the past two years, including historic investments that are creating good jobs across the country. And, it honors my commitment to safeguard Americans’ health care and protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. It protects critical programs that millions of hardworking families, students, and veterans count on.
I have been clear that the only path forward is a bipartisan compromise that can earn the support of both parties. This agreement meets that test. I urge the Senate to pass it as quickly as possible so that I can sign it into law, and our country can continue building the strongest economy in the world.

UPDATE: Feenstra’s staff did not post a statement on his official website, nor did he comment on this vote on his social media feeds. However, his office sent the following statement on behalf of Feenstra to some news organizations.

Today, we avoided financial ruin for Iowa farmers, families, and main street businesses with the passage of this measure. While imperfect, this bill includes many important long-term spending controls and enables us to pass real, comprehensive spending reform. Passage of this bill is an important first step in restoring fiscal sanity in Congress. The next step is firing Joe Biden and electing fiscal conservative majorities to Congress who are serious about getting America’s fiscal house in order.

SECOND UPDATE: Nunn posted a short video on Twitter June 1 to highlight how the Fiscal Responsibility Act “protects Social Security and Medicare.” His June 3 newsletter included this passage:

As your congressman, I have worked every day to make sure our government is responsive to your concerns. I’ve heard you, and I agree that our country must get spending under control while protecting critical programs like Social Security, Medicare, and veterans’ benefits.

That’s why I voted in favor of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, which will help accomplish this mission by reducing the debt by $1.5 trillion, including:
Cutting $29 billion in unspent COVID dollars.
Ending excessive red tape that is costly to Iowa taxpayers and prevents important infrastructure projects from moving forward.
Restarting student loan payments so Iowa’s taxpayers are not on the hook for other’s debts.
Ending the unnecessary expansion of the IRS that will make tax season harder for Iowa’s low- and middle-income families.

This will be the largest deficit reduction bill in history and will also fully protect Medicare, Social Security, and veteran’s benefits.

Hinson’s weekly newsletter on June 2 included this discussion of the bill.

President Biden and liberal Democrats in Washington are addicted to spending taxpayer dollars – they rammed through trillions in wasteful spending during their one-party rule, and would have kept going if our House Republican majority didn’t stop them.

This week, I supported the Fiscal Responsibility Act to cut spending and avoid a default that would have catastrophic consequences on everyday Iowans. It’s the sensible solution in a divided government. The next step is ensuring we have conservative leadership in the White House and Senate that will follow the Iowa model of safeguarding taxpayer dollars and budgeting responsibly. 

Despite having Joe Biden in the White House and a Democratic-led Senate, we were able to secure spending cuts and conservative wins in this legislation. Here are some highlights!

  • For the first time ever, Congress is spending less than we did the year before on non-defense discretionary spending. 
  • It enacts consequential changes to entitlement programs, helping get Americans back to work, lifting people out of poverty, and growing our economy.
  • It claws back $29 billion of unspent COVID funds, and slashes $400 million from the CDC’s Global Health Fund that sends taxpayer money to China.
  • It cuts red tape and streamlines energy and infrastructure projects – one of the top ways to reduce inflation, grow our economy, and restore energy independence.
  • It restarts student loan payments, requiring borrowers to pay off their student loan debts and saving taxpayers an estimated $5 billion per month.
  • It restores regular order in the appropriations process and forces Congress to enact 12 appropriations bills rather than one, massive omnibus bill at the last minute.
  • It blocks all of President Biden’s attempts to raise your taxes.

Miller-Meeks’ weekly email newsletter on June 4 included this passage about the vote.

Hardworking families make tough decisions every day to pay their bills and balance their checkbooks, and it’s past time for Congress to do the same. It’s why I supported HR 3746, the Fiscal Responsibility Act.

Our economic foundation in capitalism has lifted millions from poverty by giving people of every economic background the opportunity to succeed. It’s the responsibility of our government to ensure the American dream continues to inspire generations to work hard and innovate; however, continuing to spend beyond our means will put that very dream at risk. It is irresponsible and unfair to the American taxpayer, just as defaulting on our debt would be. 

I joined House Republicans in April to pass the Limit, Save, and Grow Act and make it clear that we will no longer stand for the unchecked, one-party reckless spending that has gone on for far too long in Washington. Even under Republican majorities, spending exceeded our increased revenue. 

This week, I voted to pass the largest spending reform in over a decade, cutting ~$2.1-2.3 trillion in government spending and limiting the annual growth of spending to 1% over the next 6 years. This legislation clawed back $28 billion of unspent COVID funds and slashed $400 million from the CDC’s “Global Health Fund” that was being sent directly to the Chinese Communist Party. 

Work requirements for food stamps are expanded and loopholes used by states to manipulate “around” these requirements are closed bringing more Americans back into the workforce and out of poverty. An administrative Pay-Go, which requires executive agencies to practice fiscal restraint and remain budget neutral, was also included. Had this been in place sooner, we would have saved $1.5 trillion over the past two years. 

America and Iowa received a major win when it comes to infrastructure, home building and energy projects. This bill achieves the most significant National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reforms since 1982. These reforms will help ensure that NEPA projects are no longer taking 7 to 10 years to complete but rather just over 2 years. Not only will permitting reform lower energy costs, it spurs our economic growth and is a tremendous step forward. 

Finally, this bill will restart student loan repayments and require borrowers to be responsible for paying off their own student loan debts and is estimated to save the taxpayers $5 billion a month. 

Though not a perfect bill, this legislation accomplished all of the above and more without raising taxes one penny and kept the country from a catastrophic default. Republicans, led by Speaker McCarthy, rejected all of President Biden’s $5 trillion tax increases, government mandates, and new federal programs. 

This was only the first step to address our out-of-control spending addiction and it sets the table for future spending reforms to protect taxpayers, economic growth and address our budget responsibly. There is a tremendous amount of work that still needs to be done, and I look forward to continuing to represent Iowa’s 1st congressional district and being your voice in Washington. 

Feenstra’s weekly newsletter of June 3 did not mention this vote.

About the Author(s)

Laura Belin

  • It is truly depressing...

    …to contemplate the increasingly awful choices that we will face as we try to navigate between the Scylla of climate change and the Charybdis of severe mining and pipeline damage to our fast-shrinking best natural landscapes. That dilemma is part of this deal, and it will be a growing painful part of politics in the future.